Aberdeen Rescue Squad Seeks More Funds From County
The Aberdeen Rescue Squad took its financial woes to the Moore County Board of Commissioners Thursday night but came away without a promise of more money.
Instead, the commissioners advised the volunteer squad to sit down with other parties connected with the issue and come up with a workable solution.
"We don't have that much money," said Commissioner Cindy Morgan during the work session.
Morgan, who serves on the board's public safety panel, said the Aberdeen squad should discuss the issue with representatives of the towns of Aberdeen and Pinebluff and the county to work toward a practical financial solution.
Squad Capt. Jamie Boles told the commissioners that since the county split its allocation between the squad and the Aberdeen Fire and Rescue Department, his volunteer body is facing an operational budget deficit. Boles is representative-elect for state House District 52.
"We're still honoring our commitment to the county," Boles said. "We're meeting provisions of our performance contract and are not on probation."
The problem dates to the 2007-2008 fiscal year when a 70/30 percent split was implemented in which 70 percent of the amount budgeted was allocated to the rescue squad and the remaining 30 percent to the fire and rescue unit supported by the town of Aberdeen. A 5 percent increase was approved for the 2008-2009 year, when the squad's share became $19,555.20 and the town's share $8,379.
The split was approved because the town unit responds to a number of rescue calls in the municipal area.
The squad also provides service to the Pinebluff area, which does not have a rescue squad. Pinebluff does have a fire department. The county's Emergency Medical Services responds to all medical emergencies, but rescue squads are routinely summoned to carry out a variety of services not handled by EMS and to assist EMS in other ways.
Boles said that the Aberdeen squad is the only squad not being fully funded by the county because of the split in services between the town and the rescue unit. And he was not sure how much longer the squad can continue to operate because it lacks sufficient funds to cover basic operational costs, including utilities and insurance.
"Our operating cost is fixed, just to maintain our operation, whether we answer one call or 10," Boles said.
Boles said a fundraiser was successful, but the squad's certified public accountant advised that these funds could not be applied to operational costs, only to capital improvements.
The commissioners were quick to praise the work of the hundreds of volunteers who serve on rescue squads.
"Volunteers are precious," said Commissioner Tim Lea. "The last thing we want to do is send a message that they're not important."
Lea suggested that one way to work out the shortfall would be implementation of "a friendly merger" between some of the units answering calls in the southern part of the county.
Boles said he was under the impression that the town is not interested in answering calls in the southern part of the county.
"If we cannot be funded, we won't be able to function," Boles said. "We'll have to go out of business. We're answering our calls, but we're not being funded."
Board Chairman Colin McKenzie said, "You're doing the best you can with what you've got. The solution would be for us to give you more money, but we don't have any more money. You've got to help us. We can't tell you what to do or tell Aberdeen what to do."
Boles also said that the stipend portion of the county's allocation is not enough and said the squad should receive at least as much as it received the previous year. The stipend is a factor worked into the system as part of the second phase of a countywide study of rescue and fire districts several years ago.
The stipend provides a payment to volunteers as compensation for costs involved in their service, such as training and transportation.
Scot Brooks, the county's emergency manager, said the stipend is not calculated until December and June for the current fiscal year.
In the previous fiscal year, the squad received $18,624 for operating costs and $6,922 designated for stipends.
Brooks said the idea behind stipends was to reward volunteer squads and that payments are calculated twice a year, when checks are cut for lump sum payments to each squad. Some squads use the stipends for operational costs.
In a Power Point presentation, Brooks showed statistics outlining dispatch and response percentages dating back to 2005, when the squad's percentage was 47 percent.
Since then, it has climbed to 56 percent, 67 percent and finally to 72 percent for the first part of this calendar year.
"These are great figures but they're still below performance," Brooks said.
Lea said that rescue squads received one of the largest budget allocation increases of any aspect of the county budget because the county wanted to send a message that the squads are needed and respected.
Commissioner Jimmy Melton said the county board cannot solve the problem for the squad and suggested that all parties sit down and work out a solution. He proposed that County Manager Cary McSwain take the initiative in getting representatives of the squad and the towns together.
"I'm a former rescue volunteer, and I know they do valuable service," Melton said.
McSwain said that the county has pledged support for training and other services needed by volunteer squads.
Carlton Cole, director of public safety, said that Pinebluff appears willing "to come to the table" on the issue.
"You need to get every player to come together in the same room and figure it out," Morgan said. "We can't do that. You need to sit down and talk it out and come up with some solution."
Also speaking to the commissioners during the meeting were Aberdeen Fire Chief Phillip Richardson, Aberdeen Rescue member Chris Auman, and Howard Gartman, the certified public accountant who helps the squad with the books.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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